Frequently Asked Questions

Princeton Shade Trees
Frequently Asked Questions

(updated 12/13/16)

Q:  What does the Shade Tree Commission do?
A:  The Princeton STC works with residents and employees of the municipality to watch over the health and diversity of our forest and street trees; to inventory, maintain, and grow the community green scene; to survey and monitor the streets to reduce risk from hazardous or ailing trees; and to promote public awareness of proper tree care.

Q:  How do I report a tree problem, like a large fallen branch or tree? 
A:  If you are having a tree emergency--i.e., a tree has fallen--there may be power lines involved.  Do not go near it.  Call the police at 911.

Q:  What if tree roots are pushing up the sidewalk at my address?  Who is responsible for trees that are blocking street lights, traffic, and parking signs?
A:  For non-emergencies, call the Municipal Arborist (609-497-7639) or email the arborist through the “contact” link on this site.  Please describe the problem, and provide your address, cross street, and telephone number or email.

Q:  Which trees are the responsibility of the municipality, and which are mine?  Do I need a permit to plant, prune, or cut down trees on my property?
A:  Those trees growing in the public right-of-way are protected and maintained by the municipality.  All other trees are the responsibility of the property owner.  No permit is needed for planting or pruning, as long as the pruning does not irreparably damage the tree.  A permit is needed to remove any tree with a diameter at breast height (DBH) of 8 inches or greater or an ornamental or evergreen tree with a height of 10 feet or more. 
Residents should contact the municipality by calling 609-497-7639.  An enforcement officer will respond within 20 days to grant or deny the application. Exceptions to the permit process include dead trees that are standing and ash trees, due to the infestation of the Emerald Ash Borer. However, written permission should be granted by the enforcement officer.    

Q:  How do I report the address of a “public tree” or find it on the shade tree database?
A:  A public tree is identified first by the STREET NAME it grows on, then the HOUSE NUMBER of the property, followed by a suffix LETTER and then a suffix NUMBER  if more than one tree grows at that address.  (Example:  “Witherspoon Street 184 S2”)

     Trees growing in Front of a property are assigned the letter “F” after the street and house number; trees on the Side of a corner property are indicated by “S.” Trees at the Rear of a property where the back directly borders on another street are indicated by “R.”

     Keep in mind that, for example, if 148 Witherspoon Street is on a corner, and there are two public trees in front and two around the corner on a different street, then both of the front trees would be listed as “Witherspoon 148 F,” and the two around the corner (ignoring the side street name) would be listed as “Witherspoon 148 S.”

     Finally comes the suffix NUMBER at the end of each tree address.

     Tree numbering increases in the same direction that adjacent street traffic moves.  In other words, the key to bear in mind is that Americans drive on the right side of roads. If you were driving past your own house with the front curb on your right, which tree would you pass first? That tree would be #1.

     It follows in our Witherspoon example that the second tree from the corner in front of the Witherspoon corner property would be labeled Witherspoon 184 F1, and the tree closest to the corner would be F2. Move around the corner, and the first tree you pass would be Witherspoon 184 S1; the second tree would be Witherspoon 184 S2, with suffix numbers increasing as traffic flows along the right side of the street and away from the corner you last turned.

Q:  What are  the penalties for cutting down a tree without a permit?
A:  Each tree removed is considered a separate violation. Please consult Sec. 22-16 of the Princeton Trees and Shrubs Ordinance adopted by Princeton Council in 2016.

Q:  May I prune a neighbor’s yard trees where they overhang my property?
A:  In many localities, it is common practice for a resident to prune a neighboring tree overhanging their property, only up to the property line, so long as the tree itself is not damaged. Trimming a tree improperly can cause damage to the tree.  You should consult with your neighbor before taking any action. If you are unable to work with your neighbor for a resolution, and the tree poses a danger to your property, you should consult with the Engineering Department.  If damage has already occurred to your property or to the neighbor’s tree, a consultation with your insurance company or an attorney may be required.  The Shade Tree Commission does not have jurisdiction over disputes relating to trees found on private property.

Q:  Can I request a tree be planted curbside? How does the municipality decide on the type of tree to plant? 
A:  If you have recently lost a street tree, or simply lack a street tree, the front of your property may be an ideal place for a young shade tree.  Please contact the STC.  

     Considerations the arborist takes into account when selecting a species of street tree for each location:

  • How tall or wide will it be when fully grown?
  • How fast does the tree grow?
  • Is the form appropriate to the spot?
  • Will the tree have correct sun and moisture conditions?
  • Is the tree flowering and does it produce fruit?

Q:  How can I donate a tree to the municipality? May a memorial or honorary tree be planted in the town, and what is the procedure?
A:  Please contact the STC with your name and information regarding the person to be honored. Princeton residents may also apply to adopt a tree or nominate a historic tree. Contact the STC for details.

Q:  How deep should the mulch be around my trees, and what kind is best?
A:  Mulch around a tree should be spread like a donut, not a volcano. Never allow mulch to touch the tree’s bark, and never pile it higher than 3-4 inches. Mulch too deep decreases the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which can lead to fungal and bacterial diseases. It is best to mulch with wood chips or other coarse organic material.

Q:  What do I do with dead branches in my yard?
A:  Cut them into smaller pieces no more than 3 1/2 feet long, tie for collection, and place bundles curbside in accordance with your regular brush pickup schedule.

Q:  Can I request that the Municipal Arborist visit my property to assess the condition of a particular tree or trees or otherwise advise me on questions related to my private trees?
A:  No. The arborist is responsible only for the planting, care, and control of trees and shrubs upon and in the streets, highways, public places, public right-of-ways, and parks of the municipality. On the home page of this website, you can find a link to a list of arboricultural companies (tree services) that are registered to work in Princeton.

Q:  How should I select a tree specialist?
A:  STC cannot recommend one tree service company over another, but it does recommend that you solicit more than one estimate prior to hiring a company. You should ask any certified arborist for the following information:

  • Proof of I.S.A.(International Society of Arboriculture) certification and licensing by the Contractors State License Board.
  • Assurance that the arborist will be using ANSI A300 Pruning Standards and ANSI Z133 Safety Requirements.
  • Assurance that the arborist will NOT use climbing spurs (hooks and gaffs).
  • A certificate of insurance that includes liability coverage for property damage as well as workers compensation insurance for all employees.
  • A detailed written estimate.

Q:  Is there a rule forbidding nails/staples for posters on tree trunks?
A:  Yes.  It is unlawful to attach anything to a street tree.  See Sec. 22-6 of the Princeton Trees and Shrubs ordinance

Q:  What if I don’t want a tree planted at my curbside?
A:  A notice is sent to residents weeks before any curbside plantings. Residents have time to respond to the Engineering Department.

Q:  What is a tree worth, anyway?
A:  Among the direct economic benefits of trees are lowered energy costs to homeowners, lower air conditioning costs, lower heating costs when trees are planted as windbreaks, and value added from landscaped vs. non-landscaped homes (from 5-20% value difference). The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

     Trees serve as noise barriers. Birds are attracted to the area. Leaves filter the air we breathe by removing dust and other particulates. Rain then washes pollutants to the ground. Leaves absorb carbon dioxide from the air, as well as other pollutants, ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulphur dioxide. They give off oxygen. Temperature near trees is cooler than it is away from them. Trees moderate the heat effects of pavement/concrete in urban settings. Wind speed and direction can be affected by trees. Trees reduce stormwater runoff and the possibility of flooding. 

     Trees improve air quality, moderate the climate, conserve water, and harbor wildlife.